Phytopharm obesity drug suffers setback

Phytopharm, the company trying to develop drugs from plant extracts, suffered a big setback yesterday when Pfizer - the biggest drug company in the world - abandoned work on its much-hyped treatment for obesity.

The news wiped a third off Phytopharm's market value, although the ebullient chief executive, Richard Dixey, argued the drug would still get to market, and the delay could even improve the company's future profitability.

The drug development project, codenamed P57, is based on a Kalahari desert cactus, known as a Hoodia, which has been used for centuries as an appetite suppressant by the San people in southern Africa.

Pfizer had been preparing to launch a final stage of human trials in the autumn, but has been cutting back work on natural medicines in the wake of its $260bn merger with Pharmacia.

Mr Dixey argued that the stock market reaction - sending the shares down 85p to 175p - was ill-judged. "The drug has been returned to us because of a restructuring within Pfizer, not because it has failed, and any reaction of the share price has to be looked at in that light."

Pfizer signed up in 1988 to work on P57 and had been funding much of the development. Its decision to abandon the project and hand back the rights to the product to Phytopharm robs the UK company of the prospect that the world's biggest drug salesforce will be marketing its drug. More immediately, it means a $2m milestone payment will not come in as expected in the autumn.

Mr Dixey said that "seven of the top 10 multinationals" had previously expressed an interest in P57 and he was confident of finding a new partner. "We are now able to open up the doors and we hope to begin that process very shortly. We hope to have concluded that work by the half-year and if we do so this could actually be cash-positive rather than cash-neutral."

He argued that positive results from the human trials conducted by Pfizer to date should allow Phytopharm to get a better deal from a new licensee than it got from Pfizer in 1988.

Shares in Phytopharm are back only to their levels of three months ago, before a Panorama documentary on the San, featuring Mr Dixey, who is a buddhist, reignited stock market interest. The stock has been an erratic performer, peaking as high as 880p in 2001, but tumbling back after one of the company's most-hyped products, a treatment for baldness, turned out to be less effective than E45 moisturising cream. There was also hilarity when its treatment for arthritis in dogs made their coats smell of urine.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Guru Careers: Application Support Analyst / 1st Line Support

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Application Support Analyst / 1st L...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

£45K - £55K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a full stack .NET D...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence